A red-hot Real Salt Lake rode its stingy defense to a shutout win against a strong Columbus squad to move into first place in the Western Conference.
Okay, I’ll wait while everybody takes in that last sentence. And no, you aren’t dreaming.
RSL is enjoying the best run of form in club history (and yes, I know that’s not saying a lot) and now sits in first place in the extremely weak Western Conference. No matter, because wins against Columbus and New England mean Real Salt Lake should be taken seriously, even if they can’t win on the road and are really only third in the West in points per game.
While Salt Lake deserves credit for shutting down Columbus, the Crew certainly didn’t put up that good of a fight on the terrible turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium. They looked little like the team that had been rolling offensively, due in no small part to RSL and its blossoming defense.
SBI correspondents Scott McAllister and Brant Guillory took in the action and shared their thoughts on the match with us:
First place feeling good to Real Salt Lake
By SCOTT McALLISTER
Just after the final whistle, when it was for sure that RSL were in fact victorious over the Crew, I posted the following message on Twitter, “Real Salt Lake wins 2-0. Top of the West, baby!” To which I received a reply from an MLS fan in a market far from Utah, “yes, but have you seen the Western Conference lately?” The only natural response that I could give was, “I have. It has RSL at the top and everyone else below them ;)”
Not only is RSL in first place, but they also have a positive goal differential. The two goals against the Crew were just enough to cross the divide from a minus one to a plus one differential for the year. This is just as impressive as the their place in the standings. In years past RSL have bled goals in fatal fashion. This time around you have to look all the way back into May for the last time anyone scored more than once against Nick Rimando in a game that mattered.
I could cut and paste my feelings about the defense as a whole from previous outings as it would be the same here. As a group they were solid. Individually, Ian Joy stepped up in Chris Wingert’s absence. I’ve been slightly nervous of Joy’s play in the past, but he really contributed well on the left side of the defense. Tony Beltran on the other hand had a less than stellar evening. He left Robbie Rogers open on a couple of occasions, and it was his poor clearance that set up Guillermo Schelotto’s shot that luckily hit the post.
But why focus on the negative when it should be a time of celebration. It was awesome to see Kenny Deuchar and Robbie Findley come off the bench and make their influence known. Findley fired shots like he had something to prove, and Deuchar set Findley up nicely on the goal.
And, you can’t forget Javier Morales, although I foolishly tend to when writing my reviews. Maybe it’s because we all expect him to be the glue that holds everything together for the team. He is the reason that RSL holds the ball so well this year.
Oh, and the irony of the four minutes of extra time getting halved again was priceless. Who couldn’t help but laugh that it happened in RSL’s favor while their coach was serving a suspension for the venting about the very same thing. Priceless.
Crew’s flat performance like a bad movie
By BRANT GUILLORY
One of the advantages of being a full-time graduate student is that every now and then Mrs Crew Fan and I would hit the local movie theater for a 2pm Tuesday flick. We learned, however, that while movies on that day and time are never crowded, and usually cheaper, it is often the same time slot used to train new projectionists. They’re the kids just learning how to set up the machinery, synchronize the reels, and focus the projector. So you occasionally get a movie that’s a bit fuzzy, or has a half-second jump in the middle of a monologue, or some other blip, but overall you still get your entertainment from it.
So what does this have to do with The Crew’s performance at Real Salt Lake on Saturday? I felt like I was watching The Crew filtered through a rookie projectionist. All the right pieces and parts were there. Everyone was in the right colors. All the players names matched. But their game just seemed thatmuch out of focus. Somewhere in there was a game, but one that was just a half second off, and caused The Crew to play like they just wanted to get out of town.
Rogers twice had his man beat, and instead of driving for net, laid off balls for open cutters coming through the middle. But neither ball had the ‘oomph’ it needed to get to the cutters, and the RSL defense closed down both opportunities. Schelotto launched a dozen corner kicks, that all floated, sailed, or whistled past Crew heads, in some cases seeming to defy normal physics as they were harmlessly cleared away. On the turf, Ekpo looked like an Olympic-quality sprinter (even while nursing an illness that caused him to throw up at halftime), but one who couldn’t maintain his touch on the ball at even half-speed.
The Crew were never really out of the game. They surged forward regularly. They had open players with looks at the goal. As is becoming their trademark this year, they charged up and down the wings with abandon. But at every turn, one small blip by the projectionist would unhinge the attack. Evans couldn’t trap the ball on the turf. Carroll would play an outlet a half-step in front or behind the wingers. The Schelotto-to-Moreno linkup was a half-meter off. Schelotto clanks the post before Rogers channels his inner Chad Barrett and delivers some kid in the 43d row a souvenir.
Heck, even Frankie Hejduk was just off enough that RSL scored the goal right where he was lined up in the wall. If he doesn’t twist when he jumps, or if he’s not the thinnest guy in the league, the ball caroms off of him instead of slicing into the net, and forcing The Crew to play from behind on minute four.
A quick note about the turf. It looked and played like a green hockey rink. Seriously. I’ve never seen a ball bounce like that on anything other than a basketball court. But while it’s a great home-field advantage for RSL, it’s not why Columbus lost the game.
The early goals for Columbus have got to be troubling for Sigi Schmid. The nature of the game changes when you’re playing from behind, and while this year’s team has shown they can come back (vs. San Jose, Chicago, and LA) it eventually tempts fate to concede so many early goals. Perhaps Columbus needs to take the field 5 minutes early and kick around as though it were an actual game instead of just warming up.
Finally, The Crew were once again exposed as a tea
m lacking the glue in middle of the field in the attack. Yes, I mentioned this last week, too. But it’s still a problem, and was more obvious this week than last week against Chicago. We all know that Evans is filling in for Moffat, but even the injured Scotsman was no sure thing to continue his hot start throughout the season. Look around the league at the attacking midfielders, and find one that you wouldn’t rather have than whoever Columbus throws out there this week. Schelotto plays a passing forward role, but at his age is not a true center mid, who owns the center circle and shepherds the play toward the opponent’s box. Until The Black & Gold have someone who can play toe-to-toe with Shalrie Joseph, or DeRo (or um, well, Kyle Beckerman) and control the ball through midfield with solid distribution, Columbus will have an uphill fight come playoff time.
That said, the fact that Columbus is penciled into the playoff picture at the All-Star break is pretty remarkable after the last three years.